Monday, January 17, 2005

Army of Darkness Review

Those of you looking closely at my list of DVDs will notice there are a couple of movies before Army of Darkness. But on a Sunday night you watch what your wife wants to watch. Especially when it's part of the Evil Dead series and not a silly romantic comedy.

Army of Darkness is the third (and so far final) movie in the Evil Dead Series. Before director Sam Raimi went legits with a series of critically acclaimed dramas and the Spiderman series, he was a low budget horror genius. Army of Darkness begins right where Evil Dead II ended, with Bruce Campbell trapped in medieval times to battle the deadites once again.

The trilogy started out in Evil Dead as a pretty straight horror movie. A group of people discover a book of the dead and unleash gore filled horror upon themselves in a remote cabin. Evil Dead II basically re-tells the same story with a different cast (except for the ever present Bruce Campbell), bigger budget and plenty of slapstick. The second movie is by far my favorite in the series. It keeps the ghoulish gore while adding hilarious physical comedy and some classic one liners. Army of Darkness furthers this tradition by adding even more slap stick and one lines while removing almost all of the gore.

What little plot there is goes something like this: Stranded in the middle ages Bruce Campbell is at first captured by a small army for being mistaken for a member of a rival army. Bruce quickly uses his "boomstick" to gain clout with his captors and is sent on a quest to recover the Necronomicon which will both send Bruce back to his own time and save the army from evil. Bruce being Bruce he gets the book and unleashes an army of the dead. There are two endings released for this movie. One happier ending was released in US theatres and another sequel set up unhappy ending seen in a theatrical cut in the UK and on many US DVD versions.

Raimi once again does a nice job creating a mix of horror movie cliche's (which range from Jason and the Argonauts to Gulliver's Travels) with the slapstick of the Three Stooges. Unfortunately the comic elements seem to take over this picture leaving the horror end of it as more of a backdrop. It feels more like a Zucker brother's movie more than a horror film. Most of the evil dead are formed as skeletons which only crumble when destroyed rather than burst into a mess of blood and guts as they did in the first two movies. This may seem to be an absurd complaint, but as a fan of gory movies I felt disappointed with that choice.

The cinematography is actually quite well done throughout most of the picture. My DVD copy is actually quite beautiful in scenes. Especially the exterior shots around the windmill. The use of color and lighting is well above par for most horror films. The pre CGI special effects effect the quality of the print in several areas, but still hold up as goofy Raimi effects. I kept thinking the picture was too pretty for what was actually taking place on screen.

Bruce Campbell once again does a nice job of making Ash come to life. He delivers his lines with the comic timing of a comedian while still delivering enough pain to make his albeit over-the-top beatings believable. The rest of the cast is hardly memorable as characters or for their acting.

Army of Darkness still makes a nice end to the trilogy. In a way it makes a nice bookend to Evil Dead's pure gore horror with the single middle book being a mix between bloody gore and slapstick comedy.

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